Turkey and the Future of Europe

LONDONThis is my last column for a while. I am off to become Chairman of the BBC Trust – the strategic authority of one of the greatest broadcasting organizations in the world. So I have to take a Sicilian vow of omerta on controversial issues for the term of my chairmanship. That makes for boring commentary: better to put down my pen.

It’s in my hand on this occasion as I look out over the Bosphorus on a glittering March morning. Yesterday, there were flurries of snow in Istanbul. But today the sun glints across the water to the Asian coastline of the city; the seagulls bank in the breeze; a great liner sails majestically north towards the Black Sea. It’s a “good-to-be-alive” sort of day.

But I always feel like that in Istanbul, a great city where so much world history has been forged. And it’s the city where Europe’s future may be shaped – Istanbul, not Brussels, Paris, or Berlin. Let me explain.

Europe’s current political identity emerged from its recent history. In the nineteenth century, the Continent’s share of the world’s population increased from one-fifth to one-quarter. That helped European countries dominate the century as expansionist colonial powers. But it also created competitive pressures for living space, with much of the struggle crystalizing in the antagonism between France and an emerging Germany.